Help has always felt like a dirty word. I have historically taken great pride in being able to “do it all”, “be everything to everyone,” and “handle it myself.” It’s the recovering type A personality in me. Overachieving was my cruise control. 

And then I had three boys under 5. Boy, there’s nothing more grounding to our egos than creating, growing, birthing, and raising children. And I learned very quickly how little control I had over this new world. I found myself grappling for the things I COULD control and struggling to hold that in the same space as the things I felt I SHOULD control. And my own hormones didn’t play smoothly into that. 

Around 4 months postpartum, while playing with my boys, something in my brain shifted. Quite literally like a switch being flipped, I spiraled into a panic attack. I instinctively balled up in the fetal position and rocked, sobbing, for an uncomfortable length of time. I remember being worried about the boys and kept a hand on the baby next to me. I remember my oldest asking if I was alright. All I could say was, “Not right now. But I’m working on it.” Late onset postpartum anxiety was NOT in my plan. I didn’t even know it existed! I thought I was out of the woods. But I was definitely not. And my list of controlables shrunk.

After talking with our pediatrician, I began the hard work of crawling out of the anxiety through therapy, medication, hiring babysitters, hiring a house cleaner, and really prioritizing physical movement and dense nutrition. I felt such shame in being “broken” and needing to accept help. I felt like an inconvenience who needed to spend all this money and appointments doing what I “should be able to do.” I felt like a failure. I’ll never forget crying in the kitchen while the boys watched Paw Patrol in the other room (another loaded decision that came tinged with guilt). My husband held me and said, “If your ankle was broken, would you wear a brace and take ibuprofen to help the pain? “Of course I would. That’s absurd.” “Well, your brain and hormones need a little help right now. So you need to help them heal.” 

It took me a while to unpack what I learned through my postpartum anxiety and hormonal shifts. But as I did, I became passionate about reframing the shame around help, especially in the postpartum period. I learned about postpartum doulas and immediately knew this was the necessary bridge between birth and postpartum adjustment.

Help is not a dirty word. 

Help is not failure. 

Help is not a symptom of a bad mom. 

Now as a certified postpartum doula, I face this with all of my clients. It takes a lot for a pregnant or newly postpartum mama to reach out and ask for support because there’s a social stigma that we should be able to do this on our own (with a smile on our faces and with freshly washed and made-up faces, no less). But this isn’t healthy for us OR for our children! For centuries, motherhood has been a communal existence. We have raised our babies with the support and hands of the women in our families and communities. The postpartum doula is an ancient practice – it’s not a new fad. Doulas walk alongside you in early motherhood to provide emotional, informational, and logistical support. Without judgment, we help you navigate sleep and feeding questions, we provide opportunities for rest and information about your physical recovery, we listen as you process your transformation, and we ease the logistics of your home with nourishing meals, bottle washing, and laundry. And not a single client has ever regretted reaching out and accepting support. 

No matter where you are in your motherhood journey, choosing yourself and your self care is a selfLESS act. We cannot care for our people without caring for ourselves. We’ll burn out. 10 times out of 10. By caring for ourselves, we are modeling for our children how to be their best selves. By caring for ourselves, we are prioritizing care and love. 

We need to remember a few key things (and I’m saying these aloud as I type them):

Self care IS child care. 

I am showing my children how to love themselves.

I am enough AND I am worthy of support.

I do not have to do this alone.

Accepting help is a strength.

Find a local doula for yourself, your sister, your friend. DONA International is a wonderful certification program and directory for certified doulas in your area.

Tess Ferrara is a DONA certified postpartum doula in Atlanta, GA. Follow her instagram @genesisdoulaservicesatl for more information and inspiration on the journey. You can also visit her website to learn more.